UN: More funds needed to rid Afghanistan of mines

Afghanistan will not be able to reach its goal of being free from landmines and unexploded bombs by March 2013 unless urgent funding is received, the United Nations said on Monday.

After nearly 30 years of war, Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world with more than 640 square kilometres of land still contaminated, the UN said.

Afghanistan signed the Ottawa Treaty in 2003, committing itself to ridding the country of all mines by March 2013. In a separate agreement with the international community, 70% of the country is to be cleared by March 2011.

“In order to reach these objectives ... over the next five years, based on our calculations, the programme needs another $500-million,” Mohammad Haidar Reza, programme director for the UN mine clearing agency (UNMACA) told a news conference.

“We’re at a very critical point and we cannot, and this country and the people cannot, afford ...
to see a kind of devastating situation where not much money will come,” he said.

The UNMACA has had to reduce operations in parts of Afghanistan despite having the capability to reach its targets because of a recent drop in international funding for mine clearance in the country.

“If we just take right now, as we speak, 2009, because of the availability of funds and resources ... we have reduced the activities ... of certain demining teams in certain places within the country,” said Reza, adding “if we had the money we would go full speed.”

Reza said the drop in funding has also caused UNMACA to search for new donors.

“Our traditional donors have been extremely generous ... but we have to go to new donors. We are hoping, to be able to attract the generous donations from the Gulf States as well,” he said.

Up to a 150 000 people have been killed or wounded by landmines or explosive remnants since 1989. On average, 45 to 50 people are killed or wounded by landmines in Afghanistan every month, compared to 150, three years ago.

From 1989 until the end of 2007, more than 380 000 anti-personnel mines and close to 20 000 anti-tank mines have been destroyed, but deminers have been attacked, abducted and even killed in recent years. - Reuters

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